2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Jul 13, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

Chevrolet is canceling its cars in favor of SUVs. First to go was the Cruze compact, and now the SUV that replaces it in terms of size and price has arrived in the form of the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

An old name applied to a new vehicle, the Trailblazer shares its engineering and architecture with the Buick Encore GX and is built in South Korea. It comes with a choice between two turbocharged 3-cylinder engines, front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), and five trim levels: L, LS, LT, Activ, and RS.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ Mosaic Black front exterior view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Trailblazer Activ equipped with AWD, a Convenience Package, a Driver Confidence Package, and a Technology Package. The price came to $30,580, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2021 Trailblazer, it is helpful to understand who buys small SUVs, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

J.D. Power data shows 58% of small SUV owners are female, the median age of a small SUV owner is 56 years, and the median annual household income of a small SUV owner is $78,727. They most often identify as Practical Buyers (31%) or Price Buyers (30%).

People who own small SUVs most often cite reliability, maintenance costs, and quality of workmanship as important to them. The data shows 97% of small SUV owners agree that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is reliability, 91% agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs, and 90% agree that quality is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle.

Owners say their favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, visibility and safety, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the infotainment system, engine/transmission, climate control system, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the annual J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

With styling patterned after the larger midsize Blazer, the new Trailblazer is an attractive small SUV. A variety of aluminum wheel designs, available trendy two-tone paint, and specific detailing for both the rugged Activ and sporty RS trim levels give buyers a wide range of choice in a handsome small SUV.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ Mosaic Black rear exterior view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Interior

Aside from the glossy hard plastic that is common in the segment, the Trailblazer’s interior is equally appealing. From the control layout and instrumentation to the dashboard, door panel, and seat trim, Chevrolet creates a useful, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing cabin within the new Trailblazer.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ interior dashboard view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Seats

Thanks to the Trailblazer Activ’s standard 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat and perfectly sized and shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel, the driving position in the test vehicle was excellent. Over the course of nearly three hours of driving, the SUV proved comfortably supportive, too.

Front passengers do not get the same range of adjustment, but the seat is positioned relatively high off of the SUV’s floor, which helps in terms of leg support.

Chevrolet claims the Trailblazer offers best-in-class rear legroom, and this seating area is undeniably roomy for the segment. The seat itself, however, has a flat cushion and an oddly angled backrest with too much lumbar support. The end result is lots of space for legs and feet, but poor seat comfort. 

Climate Control System

Typically, Chevrolets have excellent air conditioning systems, but this does not extend to the new Trailblazer. 

Equipped with automatic climate control, the test vehicle’s air conditioning frequently cycled between cold and tepid on a hot and sunny day, and not just when the automatic engine stop/start system engaged. Black leatherette seats didn’t help, and the SUV lacks rear seat air conditioning vents, which could add to rear seat discomfort.

If you live where cold weather is a concern, know that the Trailblazer offers heated front seats.

Infotainment System

One of the most impressive things about the new Trailblazer is its infotainment system, which is clearly designed to serve the SUV’s youthful intended owners.

A 7-inch touchscreen display is standard, and includes Bluetooth connectivity for two devices at the same time, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Chevrolet Connected Services, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. Subscriptions are necessary for those last two items.

The upgrade infotainment system has a larger 8-inch touchscreen display, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless Android Auto, SiriusXM 360L satellite radio, and cloud-connected personalization functions. Navigation is not offered, Chevrolet presuming Trailblazer owners will run their own smartphone apps instead. A 7-speaker Bose premium sound system and wireless smartphone charging are available.

From a user experience perspective, the Trailblazer’s infotainment system is excellent. Intuitive operation, easy shortcut access to main menus, and physical controls beneath the screen that are distilled to a perfect essence make it a refreshing change of pace from the approaches that many automakers take.

Storage and Space

Where Chevrolet could add in-cabin storage space to the Trailblazer, it did, even carving a small shelf into the dashboard in front of the front passenger’s seat. The center console, the door panels, and the storage bins are all a good size for this class of vehicle.

Cargo space, according to Chevrolet, measures 25.3 cubic feet behind the rear seat if you stack things all the way to the roof and use the space under the cargo floor. Practical trunk space is on par with a typical compact sedan.

Fold the rear seats down, though, and the Trailblazer’s utility shines with 54.4 cubic feet of cargo space accessed through a large opening.

Visibility and Safety

Thick rear roof pillars can create large blind spots. A standard backup camera helps when reversing, while a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning is optional for most trim levels. A high-definition version of the backup camera and rear parking sensors are also on the options list.

Chevy Safety Assist is standard on every Trailblazer. This collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) equips the SUV with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic high-beam headlights. 

Additionally, the Trailblazer has 10 airbags, a rear seat reminder system, and a Teen Driver driving report card system as standard equipment. And with an active subscription to Chevrolet Connected Services, the SUV includes automatic collision notification and emergency calling assistance.

In use, Chevy Safety Assist is hit-and-miss in terms of its effectiveness. Sometimes the lane departure and lane keeping system clearly worked, and sometimes it failed to prevent the SUV from drifting out of a lane. When set to Medium sensitivity, the adaptive cruise proved both too eager to brake when other vehicles entered the gap ahead and too slow to accelerate once the path ahead was clear. Also, the forward collision warning system emitted a false alert when driving through a tight S-curve with plenty of late afternoon shadows.

Engine/Transmission

Get a Trailblazer with L, LS, or LT trim, and it comes with a turbocharged 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine making 137 horsepower and 166 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine is paired only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive (FWD).

An option with LT trim, and standard for the Activ and RS versions of the Trailblazer, a more powerful turbocharged 1.3-liter 3-cylinder engine is available. It makes 155 hp and 174 lb.-ft. of torque, and puts the power to the front wheels through a CVT. If you get all-wheel drive, Chevy swaps out the CVT for a 9-speed automatic.

Though this small SUV has a 3-cylinder engine, turbocharging helps it to make decent power. Nimble and responsive in urban and suburban settings, the 9-speed automatic supplies smooth and quick gear changes when accelerating. It also held a lower gear while zooming up a mountain grade, allowing the Trailblazer to maintain a steady 75 mph without trying hard.

The Trailblazer Activ test vehicle had AWD, which the driver engages by pushing a button on the SUV’s center console. A Sport driving mode is also available. Activating both eliminates the hint of torque steer evident when accelerating in FWD mode and the transmission’s tendency to hesitate before downshifting when the driver presses harder on the accelerator pedal.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the Trailblazer Activ AWD should get 28 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 26.6 mpg, in spite of using AWD and Sport mode for sections of the driving loop.

Driving Dynamics

When it comes to driving dynamics, the Trailblazer excels in terms of brake pedal feel and braking performance, provides perfectly weighted and linear steering response, exhibits impressive roll control when pitched into a curve, and supplies decent grip thanks to unusual tires with all-season tread and more aggressive outer shoulders for better traction on gravel roads.

However, Chevrolet does need to address a few issues. The ride is pleasantly firm, but there is a raw and unfiltered quality to it. Road noise and impact harshness are issues, so if you live someplace where the roads are in terrible shape, prepare yourself.

Additionally, over speed humps the Trailblazer Activ required care to prevent full extension of the front suspension accompanied by a loud boom. I had to drive slower than the speed limit to prevent this. And during an off-road jaunt, it was too easy to scrape the Activ’s standard underbody skid plate on any terrain considered impassable by a car.

I also noticed that the steering would suddenly go slack and lifeless when coming to a stop. This isn’t a problem, necessarily, but some drivers could find it disconcerting.

Final Impressions - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

Small SUV shoppers will find plenty to like about the new 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer, especially when it comes to design and technology. More generous warranty coverage and longer trial periods to subscription-based services would help to add value, though, especially given what’s offered in direct competitors such as the Hyundai Kona and Kia Seltos. 

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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